Many visitors coming to Ecuador are surprised and disappointed because they think fairtrade farmers are always better paid than others, and that’s not true. In the beginning it was, but today the price hardly covers the cost of production. So it’s not the price that makes Fair Trade fair. Why, then, should we buy fairly traded products?
The benefits that get most of the attention are the projects financed by the fairtrade premium, the extra sum that the farmers get for mutual development projects. They support schools, health clinics, food baskets and school supplies – stuff that is easy to grasp and looks nice on photos. And I agree that the projects help a lot of people in a concrete way. They’re also a good example for other companies.
But the reason I want to keep buying fairtrade products is not as concrete. It’s about helping the farmers to help themselves, so in the end they won’t need Fair Trade anymore. It’s about Fair Trade’s demand that farmers organise and negotiate as directly as possible with the next link in the trading chain, and that everyone follows fair rules. What makes Fair Trade fair is the rules of the game which level the field so the small can compete with the big.
With the help of Fair Trade, the farmers have taken control of their lives. They’re no longer depending on middlemen to sell their bananas. They negotiate directly with the importer about the prices and the volumes, and get all the incomes themselves. They become actors in the world market in stead of passive pawns who have to accept whatever price they’re offered.
With the help of Fair Trade, the farmers have learned that cooperating pays off. An individual small farmer can be happy if she finds someone willing to buy her few boxes of bananas. But when hundreds of small farmers join they produce such considerable volumes that they can supply entire supermarket chains with fruits, book space in the transport vessels and hire personnel to improve the quality and the productivity.
In Fair Trade, all farmers are guaranteed to get their bananas sold at a certain price, even if that price isn’t very good. But it means that thay can concentrate on growing because they know they can afford to pay back their loans. As they produce more, they make more money, and the good circle has started.
And it’s thanks to the niche market of Fair Trade that the buyers are even there to negotiate with in the first place. Why would an importer or a supermarket buy bananas from a cooperative nobody’s ever heard of when they can get them cheaper from Chiquita or Dole? Well, because this cooperative has a certificate with a label more and more consumers want. The Fair Trade label.